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Chandler v. Guttierrez

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 5, 2017

R PHILLIP GUTTIERREZ, et al., Defendants.


          KAREN E. SCOTT United States Magistrate Judge.



         On June 13, 2014, Plaintiff Foy Jam es Chandler (“Plaintiff”), a former federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed the operative First Amended Complaint (“FAC” at Dkt. 37) alleging Eighth Amendment claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and medical negligence claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) arising out of his medical care at the Federal Correctional Institution I in Victorville, California (“FCI I Victorville”). (Id; Dkt. 138 [Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Statement of Uncontroverted Facts] at 11, Fact 2.)

         The FAC names the United States and the following five defendants who all worked at FCI I Victorville while Plaintiff was housed there:

(1) R. Philip Guttierrez was the warden;
(2) Louis Sterling was the Assistant Health Services Administrator (“AHSA”);
(3) Ross Quinn, M.D., was a doctor who treated Plaintiff;
(4) Antonia Rogers was a physician assistant (“PA”); and
(5) Lourdes Singh was an after-hours nurse.

(Dkt. 138 at 12-13, Facts 3-8.)

         On September 30, 2016, the United States and all five individual defendants moved for summary judgment. (Dkt. 132.) In support, Defendants filed a Statement of Uncontroverted Facts (“SUF”) listing 70 material facts as purportedly uncontroverted. (Dkt. 132-21.) Plaintiff opposed the motion by re-listing all 70 facts and identifying 37 as “disputed” with cites to supporting exhibits. (Dkt. 138 at 10-35, 45 [list of Plaintiff's exhibits].)

         After several extensions, on April 28, 2017, Defendants filed a reply challenging the admissibility of the declaration of Dr. David Folsom, a cardiothoracic surgeon practicing in Medford, Oregon, who opines that if Plaintiff's written “statement of facts” is true, then Plaintiff did not receive medical services consistent with the relevant standard of care while housed at FCI I Victorville. (Dkt. 138 at 65.)

         Because the Court finds that there are genuine disputes as to material facts, Defendants' motion is DENIED.



         “A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “This burden is not a light one.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010). The moving party, however, need not disprove the opposing party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Rather, if the moving party satisfies this burden, the party opposing the motion must set forth specific facts, through affidavits or admissible discovery materials, showing that a genuine issue for trial exists. Id. at 323-24; Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         The “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). An issue of fact is a genuine issue if it reasonably can be resolved in favor of either party. Id. at 250-51. “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248.

         Local Rule 56-1 requires the moving party to file an SUF. The SUF “shall set forth the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine dispute.” L.R. 56-1. Properly supported facts in the SUF are assumed to be true if they are not controverted by the opposing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e); L.R. 56-1 to 56-3.

         “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury … could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the [non-movant] is entitled to a verdict ….” Id. at 252. A verified complaint may be used as evidence to oppose a motion for summary judgment if it is “based on personal knowledge and set forth specific facts admissible in evidence.”[1] Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 460 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court “must not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the matter but only determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” MAI Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 516 (9th Cir. 1993).



         Plaintiff was housed at FCI I Victorville from March 11, 2011 until July 9, 2012. (Dkt. 138 at 11, Fact 1.) The facts concerning what happened after his release are largely undisputed. He was driven by his family to a half-way house, the Northwest Regional Re-Entry Center (“NRRC”). (Id.) The NRRC's medical information intake form dated July 11, 2012, notes that Plaintiff reporting back pain upon arrival (i.e., “bad/slip disc - nerve problems”) and requested an MRI. (Dkt. 138 at 86 [intake form].) On July 12, 2012, NRRC sent Plaintiff to an urgent care clinic due to “unbearable/increasing back pain ….” (Id. at 87 [staff medical notes].) In August and September 2012, the Oregon Health & Science University (“OHSU”) performed an MRI of Plaintiff's spine. (Id. at 92 [report] and 98 [MRI image].) The radiologist who reviewed the MRI opined that it showed the space between Plaintiff's lumbar disks 3 and 4 was “destroyed, ” and that this “disk abnormality does not have the appearance of posttraumatic abnormality. It looks more post-infectious … but clinical correlation is advised.” (Id. at 92.) In September 2012, Plaintiff was hospitalized at OHSU, diagnosed with vertebral osteomyelitis, a bacterial infection of his vertebrae bones, and treated for severe back pain. (Dkt. 138 at 31, Fact 58.)

         The material, factual disputes in this case concern (1) when Plaintiff first contracted osteomyelitis and (2) what actions the medical staff at FCI I Victorville took, or failed to take, in response to Plaintiff's complaints of severe back pain. According to Defendants, Plaintiff was malingering and drug-seeking in prison, and all prison staff members provided him with appropriate medical care, even though they never authorized an MRI to diagnose his back pain. According to Plaintiff, “more than one doctor” at OHSU told him that if the prison medical staff had “taken just basic steps to figure out what was wrong, ” then they would have seen the bone infection and it could have been “easily treated” with antibiotics. (Dkt. 138 at 60; id. at 98 [MRI taken at OHSU on 9/1/12].) He contends that the late detection of his infection caused him to suffer bone damage, unnecessary pain, and kidney damage from later needing to take “such high doses of antibiotics.” (Dkt. 138 at 60.)



         A. Expert Testimony and California Medical Negligence Law.

         The FTCA provides that the United States may be held liable for “personal injury … caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). In a case brought under the FTCA, liability is determined in accordance with the substantive law of the state where the alleged negligence occurred. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b); Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 23 (1980).

         To establish a claim for medical negligence in California, plaintiffs must prove all the following elements: “(1) the duty of the professional to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as other members of his profession commonly possess and exercise; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a proximate causal connection between the negligent conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage resulting from the professional's negligence.” Hanson v. Grode, 76 Cal.App.4th 601, 606 (1999).

         The standard of care in a medical malpractice case requires “that physicians and surgeons exercise in diagnosis and treatment that reasonable degree of skill, knowledge, and care ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of the medical profession under similar circumstances.” Mann v. Cracchiolo, 38 Cal.3d 18, 36 (1985), overruled on other grounds by Perry v. Bakewell Hawthorne, LLC, 2 Cal. 5th 536, 543 (2017). “Because the standard of care in a medical malpractice case is a matter peculiarly within the knowledge of experts, expert testimony is required to prove or disprove that the defendant performed in accordance with the standard of care unless the negligence is obvious to a layperson.” Johnson v. Superior Court, 143 Cal.App.4th 297, 305 (2006) (internal citations omitted). Physicians specializing in a medical area are “held to that standard of learning and skill normally possessed by such specialists in the same or similar locality under the same or similar circumstances.” Quintal v. Laurel Grove Hospital, 62 Cal. 2d 154, 159-160 (1964).

         In addition to the standard of care, causation must also be proven “within a reasonable medical probability based upon competent expert testimony.” Jones v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 163 Cal.App.3d 396, 402-403 (1985); see also Gotschall v. Daley, 96 Cal.App.4th 479, 484 (2002) (“[E]xpert testimony was essential to prove causation. Without testimony on causation, plaintiff failed to meet his burden on an essential element of the cause of action.”)

         B. Expert Opinions and the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         In federal courts, Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert opinions, and provides as follows:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence ...

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